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Best Charcoal Grills

By: Kelly Burgess on April 24, 2018

Charcoal grills are for the true enthusiast

While gas grills, which we cover in a separate section of this report, are very convenient, many grilling enthusiasts say that you simply can't duplicate the flavors and mouthfeel you get when you cook on a charcoal grill. As with gas grills, the top manufacturer in this category is Weber.

Among this company's most popular charcoal grills is the Weber Original Kettle Premium (Est. $150), which is the first upgrade to the Weber Original 22-inch Kettle (Est. $100). The Premium version draws praise from experts for its reliable performance and solid construction. This grill is the top pick at Wirecutter, where testers note that, "it produced beautiful meals in our test -- and needed no expertise and no fussing on our part to do so."

The most useful feature the $50 upgrade gives you is a closed ash catcher that reviewers say solves the flying ash problem sometimes encountered on the basic version. You also get an additional handle on the kettle and a hinged cooking grate (which is helpful for adding charcoal). There's also a thermometer built in to the lid, but experts say it doesn't work very well. They recommend a dedicated meat thermometer instead (and we recommend the best of those in our separate report on meat thermometers). The Premium Kettle has a 22-inch cooking area, but a larger version is available -- the Weber Premium 26-inch Kettle Grill (Est. $300), with a stainless steel (not plated steel) cooking grate.

All of the grills in Weber's Original Kettle series have a bowl and lid with a porcelain-enameled finish, a plated-steel cooking grate (except, as noted above, the 26-inch Premium Kettle), a "one touch" cleaning system that funnels ash toward the bin, and glass-reinforced nylon handles.

Owners love having such a versatile grill, saying it excels in cooking every kind of meat imaginable. Quite a few note that the domed lid makes the grill roomy enough even to grill a Beer Can Chicken (a recipe wherein a chicken is cooked standing upright on an open can of beer). They say the grill imparts great flavor to food and that it's very easy to use and clean -- many say it's definitely worth the upgrade to keep the ash from flying around when emptying it. Experts agree, saying it is built to last, has superior cooking capability, and is super easy to use.

If you want to fancy up your Weber Kettle even more, the Weber Performer 22 (Est. $250) is also a top pick by reviewers, who rave about its convenience features. The Weber Performer is basically the Weber Original grill, but with all the features of the Premium and tucked into a holder that includes a fold down side table and a wire shelf. Owners say it offers the best of both worlds -- the excellent performance of a Weber charcoal grill with the handy storage and workspace features of a gas grill. This grill is the top pick at one professional kitchen, where they praise both its superior performance and being able to have, "the convenience of gas plus the flavor of charcoal."

If you also like the idea of a charcoal grill with gas grill conveniences, but don't like the idea of a $250 price tag, check out the Char-Broil 580 (Est. $130). Popular Mechanics names it one of the top grills of 2017, calling it, "A lot of grill for the money." They also praise its crank-operated height control, so you can adjust the distance between the heat and the grill.

The Char-Broil 580 is nicely featured too, with 580 total square inches of cooking space, two fold-down side shelves and a bottom shelf, and a front-access panel for adding charcoal. The slide-out pan makes it easier to clean up than many other charcoal grills. Owners like it better than its 3.9-star rating at Amazon would indicate -- most of the lower reviews have to do with assembly issues, not performance. There are also complaints that it doesn't seem very sturdy, but most agree that, for the price, that's to be expected.

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